Kotoura-san – 12 (End) and Series Review

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Kotoura-san goes the “full circle” route with its finale, and all in all pulls it off pretty well.

I said last week that I was glad Kotoura-san didn’t end with episode 11. It was easily the weakest of the season and certainly not how I want to remember this series, and it turned out to be a very good thing it wasn’t the finale because the actual one was indeed much better (though hardly perfect).  I’d adjudge the last episode to have displayed both the things that endear me to the series and the things that annoyed me about it, but since the overall balance on that score is pretty positive, that’s not a bad thing. And in terms of closure, this actually ended up being one of the better final episodes of the last few seasons.

Every so often a series comes along where the premiere is easily the best episode of the show’s run.  Depending on how good that premiere was that doesn’t necessarily mean the series isn’t an overall success (I’d use Kotoura-san and Tamako Market as this season’s examples of the two possibilities) but it’s a bit sad even with a good show like this one, as it’s a reminder of unrealized potential.  The first episode was a corker – partly due to the disconnect between what I was expecting and what was delivered, no doubt, but also because it delivered some of the darkest and most gripping anime drama in many a season.  The series was a bit of a roller-coaster ride after that, right up to the end, and always presented a fascinating yet vexing conundrum about just what sort of show it was trying to be.

I think the problems of Kotoura-san can largely be attributed to pacing.  What I can’t say, however, is whether that’s an issue with the anime being one-cour or with the source material itself.  Simply put, this is like no other 4-Koma manga adaptation I’ve seen.  The format seems (superficially at least) ill-suited to tackling the kind of serious drama this series has confronted over and over during its run.  Yet the blockbuster premiere showed that it was very much capable of doing so with astonishing depth and power.  Does that mean the format itself is off the hook, and with more time to tell the story the anime would have been an unqualified success?  Obviously I don’t know the answer to that but I suspect the issue is more complicated.

Whatever the root cause, the Achilles heel of Kotoura-san is its tendency to oversimplify everything.  There are character and story arcs here that had the potential to be much more successful than they were, but paid the price for being rushed through in an episode or two.  In the end it seems as if the core message of the series is “Everyone can be forgiven, and probably should be“.  While that’s admirable in theory, in practice I find it pretty unsatisfying.  I don’t discount the possibility that characters like Moritani and Mifune and even Kumiko-san and Tsukino-san can be redeemed, in dramatic terms I don’t think it can be done the way this show tried to do it.  Forgiveness is a complicated topic and it doesn’t hold up well as a central premise when it’s treated like a simple one.

This trend continued right up the finale, where the spectre that’s been hanging over the series since the beginning, Kumiko-san, finally took center-stage.  To be honest I’ve smelled this ending coming for a long time, and it still doesn’t really work for me.  Feeling conflicted over doing terrible things doesn’t excuse a person from doing terrible things (just as feeling sorry for doing them after the fact doesn’t excuse a person).  We saw this exemplified in quite literal terms with Tsukino-san, who was given a kind of modified multiple-personality disorder to illustrate her internal conflicts.  With Kumiko it’s more traditional – yes she told her daughter she wished she’d never given birth to her, but hey – at least she felt bad about it when she said it so it must be all good.  Right?

Well, not quite – and to be fair, the series doesn’t go quite that far.  But we do see the same pattern repeating itself over and over in Kotoura-san – Haruka blaming herself for everything that’s been done to her by other people.  To be blunt I don’t find this an especially likeable quality in her character, and I think it’s only a superb performance by Kanemoto Hisako that saves the character in the end.  Like the series itself she transitions back and forth between drama and comedy (including her impersonation of a terrible singer when in fact, she’s an excellent one) at the drop of a hat, and is adept at both.  But I’m troubled that the series seems unwilling to take a stand about this behavior – in fact the message at times seems to be that it’s quite admirable.  There’s an overall unwillingness to make moral judgments that seems to be taken to extremes – in general I fully support open-mindedness, but Kotoura-san could do with a little more spine when it comes to telling us what it believes is right and wrong, if you ask me.

On the other hand, there are times when the series shows insight that surprises me.  Just as Kotoura-chan’s seeming cluelessness about the hidden motives of those around her ended up being not cluelessness but indifference, the series itself seems to be telling us that it’s well aware of the seeming incongruity of its character’s behavior.  When Mifune finally comes clean about her obvious duplicity in using Haruka for her own purposes, Haruka tells her that she always knew – but as usual, places the blame (falsely) on herself and overlooks it.  Haruka tells us in the final episode that, effectively, she knew all along that Manabe-kun was the only one in her circle not playing her and the only one she could trust – yet she acted at times as if he were the least trustworthy person in her life.  Maybe this is sort of a deep message in a way – that just because we know in our heart something is true, that doesn’t mean that we’ll act logically based on that knowledge.  And maybe it’s a sort of wink from the series telling us that all the headdesk moments (apart from the plotquakes of episode 11, anyway) aren’t lazy writing, but an acknowledgment of the fact that sometimes people just do stupid things when they should know better.

In any event, whatever the root cause, the final result is a series that’s at times unsatisfying but generally admirably entertaining.  It was certainly interesting seeing comic genius Ohta Masahiko try his hand at this caliber of drama, and I would definitely like to see more of it.  And there’s no denying he’s still a master-class in comedy direction – Kotoura-san is a very, very funny series when it’s willing to embrace that side of itself unreservedly.  And it’s the juxtaposition of the screwball ecchi comedy and the ruthlessly dark drama that makes Kotoura-san nearly unique – not just that both sides are present, but that they’re both in display at virtually the same instant in many cases.  That’s life, of course – tragedy and humor are always lurking over our shoulder at any given moment, and it’s the ability to laugh at the dark side of life that allows us to carry on with the effort at living.

For me the best single character-driven element in Kotoura-san is the relationship between Kotoura-chan and Manabe-kun, even if there were times it was quite vexing.  I found the most memorable line of the finale to be Kotoura’s “There are times when I just want to hear people say what they mean.”  That’s rather poignant, coming from someone in her position.  In Manabe-kun she’s met the perfect partner for a psychic – someone with no secrets, a boy who’s always true to his heart.  So he isn’t perfect – if her were, that would be boring.  He obviously and transparently loves Haruka, and that extends – as it should – to being sexually attracted to her (and she is to him, too, though she’s more subtle about it).  It seems that there were times when Kotoura almost resented this openness in Manabe, when she pushed him away at the very moments she should have been holding him closest – but perhaps that’s another of those acknowledgements that human behavior can be illogical and self-defeating.  It seems that in the end she does really get it – Manabe is the one who loves her unreservedly, for everything she is and everything she isn’t.  And that being the one unambiguously true fact that Kotoura-san is willing to embrace, it seems a very good thing to end on.

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17 comments

  1. R

    "To be blunt I don't find this an especially likeable quality in her character, and I think it's only a superb performance by Kanemoto Hisako that saves the character in the end."

    ?????!!!!!!!!!! In an early episode you described her as being gloriously kind, and now you just barely manage to like her? Poor Kotoura… >.< I think she should be given some leeway considering her circumstances… the fact that she's been ostracized means that her life experiences must be rather few, and that she's lived an empty life ever since being abandoned by everyone around the age of six. You can't expect much wisdom from someone whose life hasn't consisted of much more than sitting silently in a classroom and spending time by herself in an empty apartment.

    " I don't discount the possibility that characters like Moritani and Mifune and even Kumiko-san and Tsukino-san can be redeemed"

    You didn't put Moritani in the 'harder to redeem' category? Do I detect a smidgeon more effect for Mori than at the beginning of the show? 😮 I am curious… do you feel softer towards Mifune than the other three you mentioned here? The death of her mother must have been quite traumatic, she's generally friendly, and she tried to be a better friend to Kotoura with time. Of the 'gray' characters, I think she is the most sympathetic. Just my opinion…

  2. R

    "Do I detect a smidgeon more effect for Mori than at the beginning of the show?"

    I meant to say affection, please don't ban me for this typo. T.T

  3. No, absolutely no affection for her whatsoever. But she was around so much that her express redemption is less offensive, and at least we got to see her suffer a little.

  4. R

    Oh, I see. Now can you answer my points about Kotoura and Mifune please? :p

  5. I would agree she's probably the most sympathetic of the shady characters, for what that's worth. I think there's an issue with Muroto knowing what she was up to, knowing it was wrong and doing nothing to stop it.

  6. R

    I'll take the silence concerning Kotoura to mean that you no longer like the poor girl after all. T.T Hmm, so with Muroto added to the bad guy pile, it seems the only character you don't take issue with are Manabe and the grandfather. I guess the moral of the story is that perverts are your friends? lol

  7. To be honest, I have no idea what your point is or what you're trying to say, but clearly a serious discussion is not a part of the equation.

  8. F

    Haruka is practically a saint when it comes to forgiving the people who wronged her. It's a huge ironic element of the show because she's been called a "monster." So I forgive St. Haruka for forgiving so many people.

  9. G

    I really enjoyed this series and would love to see another year. My one big gripe about this series is the same I have for most anime series that have villians. All too often they are forgiven or redemed at the very end and quite often. Anime villians just are not punished for all the evil and misery they cause.

    Moritani was forgiven way too easily and when Mommy Dearest showed up this week (we all knew it was coming) they seemed to resolve their differences or at least learn to forgive each other in a matter of minutes. This should have been its own arc and spread out more to at leasst be realistic. Even with these issues I still loved this series and am going to miss it. Its miles ahead of the worst anime I was foolish enough to stay with until the end this season (Amnesia).

  10. a

    next time enzo please dont fucking hype. thankyou

  11. l

    Everything just seem to come too easy. The thing with Moritani getting forgiven, Yuriko "using" Kotoura, that thing with the mother.

    The creators/animators seemed to spend quite a bit time building up the issues and then it each seems to sort itself out in half an episode.

    Kinda feels like the anime reverted to 4-koma mode after trying to be a more traditional comedy/drama earlier on.

  12. H

    Just like it did with Moritani earlier in the season, I thought the show did soft pedal the 'forgiveness' of Kumiko a bit more than it could have. It gave me the feeling that Haruka understood her mother better, but didn't necessarily completely forgive her. And I would guess that Zenzou probably doesn't completely forgive her yet, either, even if she is his daughter (I'm actually glad that was cleared up).

    As for Yuriko, I still think that her 'forgiveness' was fine, because 1) she didn't really *do* anything, and 2) the things she did do, she bore the brunt of (through Daichi). It's just as easy to argue that Haruka was involved with Tsukino-san and the police investigation because of Moritani getting arrested as anything Yuriko did. As Haruka said, they were both using each other to an extent, and while it's good to clear that up, it's not really a huge transgression, in my opinion.

    The show overall was fun throughout, although I agree that the 11th episode was the worst for many reasons. It was best when they had the freedom to go wherever, rather than having to end up at a certain point (like with Tsukino).

    Thanks for blogging it!

  13. e

    AAAH, the mother-daughter sequence and final screenshot in the end credits made me wince. Frankly I had much more sympathy feelings for Haruka's poor ruined pink carpet. I ached for that carpet I tell ya.
    And there was still some Manabe-suffering&abuse sneaking in. Woe.
    But I liked the rest. Much like the series as a whole, when it's good it's really good.
    And the OP managed to made me go SQUEE at the ManabexKotoura scenes in it every single time so much that I never skipped it. When she rubs her head against his arm! When he pats the top of her head! How ADORABLE. How KYAHHH <3 :,).

  14. S

    Kotoura-san might be a bad example to use for this, but since you brought up sexual attraction, here goes:

    I absolutely detest the male and female stereotypical behaviour when it comes to sex in animes. The females are all clueless, asexual, bipedal creatures OR sluts. And all men are various degrees of disgusting perverts or noble, or both. Again, this is only when it comes to sex, or whatever the anime audience relate to sex.
    I don't want to go in to deep about this( nobody would want to read that) but being constantly spoon-fed this crap just made me want to rage a little. Sexually clueless Kotoura (c.f. Manabe) just stood in the way and took the heat this time. There are exceptions to all of this of course and I think Nazo no Kanojo X is a good place to start.

    Overall a great series, an epic starting episode. I wish it had continued on the darker path, not many series of any medium do, but still top notch.

  15. B

    I'm gonna go the opposite way here and say that I think this series turned out to be entirely forgettable. The first few episodes did a great job setting up the series to have a lot of potential, and the rest of the series set about relentlessly squandering it. It's definitely going to be a strong candidate for Most Disappointing come the end of the year.

    Interestingly, before I ever watched the first episode of this, I assumed it was going to be a standard high school comedy. If only. As you said Enzo, this show was at it's strongest when it was focusing on the comedy, which was generally pretty good. If the show had stuck with what it was good at, it wouldn't have been a decent show, but it had to shoehorn in a bunch of ham fisted drama, and that's what killed it for me.

    The part of the episode where Kotoura's mom came back was especially grating. Here's a woman who committed severe emotional abuse on her daughter (and was more than ready in this episode to keep the cycle going by throwing in a little physical abuse while she was at it) and all it takes is one drunken mental image to set things back on the road to goodness? No, sorry. When Kotoura was getting weepy eyed over her mom and said something like "I never realized how much it hurt her as well" (or something to that effect, I'm paraphrasing) I just about screamed at my TV. "YOU WERE A GODDAMN CHILD, THAT WASN'T YOUR JOB YOU RETARD! FFFFFFFFFFF!" We're supposed to accept that they are both to blame somehow despite the fact that one of them was a child and the other was a grown ass adult? Again, no, sorry, not buying it.

    If this was the only instance of this shit I might look past it, but the show fell into the same pattern over and over, outright murdering any chance of an emotional payoff since I just couldn't invest in the characters beyond being more or less constantly pissed off at them. You compared it briefly to Tamako Market. Let me put forth my opinion that Tamako Market is the far better show between the two. Tamako Market is strictly average standard KyoAni cute-girls-doing-cute-things fair, and it's better than this show. The reason I think that is because Tamako Market knows that it's that kind of show and doesn't pretend to be anything else. At the end of the day Kotoura-san could have profited from it's example, figure out what your show is and stick to it, or else you just end up with a mess.

  16. B

    And now, some spelling corrections, since I hit submit without double checking my work like a moron.

    "If the show had stuck with what it was good at, it wouldn't have been a decent show,"

    That should say "it would have been a decent show".

    "Tamako Market is strictly average standard KyoAni cute-girls-doing-cute-things fair,"

    Fair = fare.

    Pretty happy there were only two considering I typed it all out pretty fast and failed to check it at all.

  17. J

    Personally I see it as a journey of rehabilitation for Kotoura. Seriously I don't get the people who anticipated darkgrim depressing drama from the get go and overhyped themselves.

    It's a very encouraging path of recovery, and while it may be forgettable in the future, I certain wasn't disappointed by what I witnessed. Not every story has to be grand, just something small and personal like this would do.

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